The Role of Canines and Canine Units in the Canadian Police Service

The Role of Canines and Canine Units in the Canadian Police Service Blog Header
The Role of Canines and Canine Units in the Canadian Police Service Blog Header

The partnership between humans and canines dates back thousands of years. Dogs have served in various ways – as hunters, guardians, livestock herders, draft animals and loyal companions. Today, men and women in Canadian Police Services partner with dogs to protect the public. Police officers put their lives on the line in the course of their duties, and so do their canine colleagues.

Getting Started in a Canine Unit

Constables must work at least five years in a regular unit before applying to become a dog handler. Prior to that application, they must train with the department’s canine unit on their own time. The first official step is taking a puppy-imprinting course and then applying to become a puppy handler. Those constables who are accepted then receive an 8-week-old puppy to raise and train in the basics while still performing regular, assigned duties. The constable may take the Dog Master course and start work in the canine unit if a vacancy is available.

What is the role of canines in policing?
Did you know trained canines help with purse snatching, burglary and other crimes requiring speed and agility?
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Dog Breeds

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police use only German shepherds or Belgian Malinois for general duty, with male dogs considerably outnumbering females in the service. All come from top working bloodlines. Since the RCMP standards are so high, relatively few canine candidates make it through the intensive training program. Dogs are not chosen only for their perfect health and physical conformation, but for:

●     Even temperament

●     Ease of trainability

●     Protective instinct

●     Hunting instinct

The heavy coats of German shepherds and Belgian Malinois are practical for working in Canada’s harsh climate.

Specialty dogs, those used for specific detection work, are usually Labrador or golden retrievers or other retrieving breeds. Beagles are especially talented at finding contraband plant and animal products. Some units may use German shepherds for narcotics and other detection work.

Canine Unit Training

Dogs and handlers undergo extensive and thorough training. After completing courses for specific training, the team undergoes official certification. If the team does not pass a particular test, they may take a re-examination within a prescribed time frame.

Training isn’t over once the dog completes his initial course. Not only does every team need an annual validation of their working abilities, but dogs and their handlers learn new skills regularly. Rappelling is just one area in which a service dog must show aptitude. The team has to chase a criminal no matter where it leads. Dogs are trained to hold, not savage, perpetrators.

General Duty Dogs

General duty dogs’ training and responsibilities include:

●     Tracking criminals

●     Finding lost persons and property

●     Emergency search and rescue

●     Crowd control

●     Hostage situations

●     Searching for evidence and contraband.

Police service dogs also play a crucial role in community policing, as local residents get to know the officer and the dog. This team often responds to complaints of purse snatching, burglary and similar crimes requiring speed and agility.

General duty dogs usually retire at the age of 8 to 10. They live with their handlers during their working lives, and usually stay with them once retired.

Detector Dogs

Detector dogs work in specialized fields, although some dogs are trained for more than one discipline. Detector dogs may specialize in:

●     Narcotics Detection

●     Firearms Detection

●     Human Remains Detection

●     Explosives Detection

●     Plant and Animal Detection

●     Currency Detection

●     Accelerant Detection

Dogs are trained to give the handler a signal when they detect the target odour.

Detector dogs start training by the age of 16 months and live with their handler. They often work for 10 years or more. Retirement is usually with their handlers or in a handler-approved home.


Police work takes a toll. Because of the constant stress of dealing with violent and life-threatening situations, some police personnel end up with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). A trained service dog helps these retired officials – and military veterans and first responders – cope after a PTSD diagnosis. Police dog trainers give back to their compatriots with PTSD by finding suitable dogs – often from animal shelters – and teaching them to become service dogs. Some retired police officers bring their own pet dogs for training. It’s a win-win all around, for trainers, dogs and the brave men and women who have sacrificed so much serving the public.

The Cream of the Crop

There is usually a long waiting list for canine unit applicants, which makes sense. Only the best handlers and dogs qualify to become a 24/7 working team.

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